In the dog training world, you hear about it all the time. As a trainer, I am taking about it constantly. For puppies and fearful dogs, it is all important. I am talking, of course, about socialization.

I figured I would continue with the puppy theme I’ve been doing lately and talk about the crucial topic of socialization. Basically, from age 6 weeks to age 16 weeks is a critical period in the puppy’s life. Experiences that take place in this window tend to have a stronger impact on the puppy’s personality and outlook on life than if those same experiences took place a few weeks or even months later. This is why puppy owners are counseled so strongly to get their puppies out into the world and expose them to life, while at the same time being careful to avoid high risk of exposure to diseases until their immune system is more mature. It is a tough tightrope to walk.

I am not a vet, and so I will advise you to talk to your vet about the risk of disease. However, I can tell you from a behavior standpoint, it is so much easier to prevent problems through socialization, especially when the puppy already has a fearful or nervous personality, than it is to try to remedially socialize an adult dog. It takes many times more exposures for an adult dog to approach the same effect that one single exposure has on a puppy inside the critical timeframe.

So what do you need to make sure your puppy is exposed to? Here are a few suggestions:

Surfaces:

Grass, cement, and dirt, parking lots
Stairs
Carpet, tile, linoleum, rugs, and shiny indoor commercial flooring like at pet stores
Manhole covers, metal flooring
Surfaces that move a bit or wobble beneath their feet, like clanging sidewalk plates or swinging bridges

Environmental:

Rain, snow, heat, and cold (being careful not to go to extremes and harm your pup)
Dog-friendly events
Car rides (shorter at first, then longer)
Kong toys (lightly stuffed first, then progressively harder)
Crates
Your vet’s office and staff, groomer’s office and staff, boarding kennel or pet sitter and staff
Fireworks (from a far distance), alarms, traffic, doorbells, jackhammers
Buses, motorcycles
Planes, trains, sirens, etc
Vacuum cleaner, broom, and lawn mower, snow blower
Forest, meadow, beach, mountain/bluff, rivers, ponds, large bodies of water, farm

Visual:

Umbrellas (opened and closed), rain coats, jackets, and winter coats, costume or unusual clothes
Caps, baseball hats, and wide-brimmed hats, helmets, hoodies, backpacks, large purses
Canes, walking sticks, walkers
Pots, pans, blankets, rugs, fans, balloons, gs blowing in wind
Sunglasses and regular glasses
Direct eye contact, direct eye contact with forward movement, direct eye contact with smile and forward movement
Bikes, trikes, wheelchairs, skateboards, rollerblades, scooters, and other wheeled non-motorized vehicles

People:

Infants squealing, crawling, in stroller or carrier
Children standing, walking, running, skipping, and jumping
Children being quiet, saying hi to the puppy, and being loud and obnoxious and playful
Teenagers
Men, especially larger, taller men, men with beards, men with deep voices
Women
People of various ethnic backgrounds
People with handicaps
The mail carrier and delivery person
People in uniforms

Other Animals:

Other dogs, both small, large, male, and female
Farm animals (if your puppy is at all likely to be exposed at a later date), cats, birds

Grooming:

Leash, collar, harness, and other equipment you will use regularly
Bathing, nail trims, teeth brushing, and other grooming rituals
Hugs, restraint, and head pats

In all of these, you need to be careful that these are good experiences. If you have an “oops”, then be sure you seek out that very same category of socialization for 7 good experiences to every one bad experience, the sooner the better.

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